- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

INWOOD, W.Va. (AP) - A Berkeley County student who went without talking for a week in order to raise money for autism awareness, spurred an online frenzy after the local organization she donated her money to shared her story through a Facebook post.

Bonnie Pretre, president and co-founder of Eastern Panhandle Indigo Children, posted a photo of a $750 check and a letter written by Musselman High School sophomore Cassidy Barbee on March 3.

The post generated more than 350 likes, approximately 50,000 views and almost 250 shares.

Pretre posted the photo with the following message, “I went to the mailbox today and this is what I found, the tears rolled down my face as I read this young lady’s letter to EPIC. You have touched many by your selfless act of giving. Cassidy, you young lady have done far more then you realize, you are inspiring. Thank you for your gift to EPIC, thank you for spreading autism awareness…. Thank you for giving up your voice to understand a small part of what it must be like to not have one.”

Cassidy, 16, gave up her voice for a week in order to raise awareness for autism. Over just one week, Cassidy raised $750 and donated it to EPIC, a local autism awareness nonprofit located in Charles Town.

EPIC was founded in 2010 by two mothers of autistic children (one being Pretre) who share the common goal and bond for providing the very best for their special needs children in an environment with limited resources.

Pretre said EPIC is an information exchange that is committed to providing the best information available to its members as well as a collaboration network to exchange ideas, questions, concerns and information about autism spectrum disorder.

ASD and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors, according to the Autism Speaks website, a national nonprofit organization for autism awareness.

Cassidy said the idea came to her when she was on the internet scrolling through Pinterest. Cassidy said she saw an advertisement that read, “Give up what some have never had, Mute for Autism,” and at first thought it was a cool idea but kept on scrolling looking at other things online. But after a while she couldn’t get the idea out of her head.

“Later that afternoon, I got a text from my friend and he has Aspberger’s (a form of autism) and he went through a lot of stuff in middle school and even was in the hospital for a long time. And I got to thinking, I don’t think people realize how hard it is for people who have don’t have the option to use their voice as a way to talk to people, it makes it really hard,” Cassidy said.

It was then, Cassidy said she decided she was going to go a week without speaking in hopes her actions would bring attention to the cause.

Cassidy had a week of preparation, handing out notes to her teachers with her parents signatures in order for them to allow her to not speak in class for a week without consequences.

She is also a member of the Musselman High School’s basketball team and with basketball in full swing she had to attend every practice and game all while staying mute, Cassidy said.

“It was really difficult. Apparently I am really bad at using my mouth, I can’t mouth words very well at all. My close friends could read my expressions and stuff but that was about it,” Cassidy said.

During school Cassidy answered her teachers using pen and paper and one of her friends even brought her a white board and eraser in order to make it easier for her to communicate among their group of friends.

“People kept asking me, ‘Why are you quiet?’ So it got the word out for it. It wasn’t just a useless cause,” Cassidy said.

But Cassidy’s silence didn’t just happen in school, she continued to be mute the entire week, even at home. Cassidy’s mother Dawn Barbee, said she loved the idea her daughter had but she had her doubts.

“I think it’s great. It’s wonderful she wanted to raise awareness and do this, but I didn’t think it would last very long because Cassidy is a huge talker and she’s never quiet,” her mother laughed.

Dawn said her daughters actions showed determination and how strong willed she was when it came to this cause.

“Once she sets her mind to do something she usually accomplishes it or overachieves it. And she saw the reaction that it got and how much it’s helped so far… She did remarkably well with it and her father and I are both very proud of her,” she said.

Cassidy’s mother said her daughter’s actions helped her realize how difficult that type of situation can be on a family.

“It was very frustrating as a parent, I don’t know how she (Pretre) does it. Just the hours that Cassidy put in and was quiet for, it was frustrating for me and then the frustration from her from me not being able to read her lips and seeing those facial expressions of frustration, the aggravated body language was very difficult to deal with,” Dawn said,

“It’s easy to take for granted the normal conversation and being able to ask your child a simple question and them being able to answer,” Pretre said.

Cassidy said she went into this wanting to raise awareness but didn’t expect to raise so much money.

“I had the ability to get sponsored by people, the community, friends, family and other organizations throughout Inwood donated,” Cassidy said.

Pretre said Cassidy’s actions alone makes a difference, monetary donations aside.

“Her impact, just seeing what she did and for her to understand how difficult it is to communicate, that our whole community goes through that, the whole autism community. A lot of our children and adults don’t have the words or they get so overwhelmed by their surroundings that they cannot get the words out,” Pretre said,

“So, for her to experience that and for other people around her to experience it that’s very impactful just itself,” Pretre added.

EPIC is currently working with various other autism organizations, as well as Jefferson and Berkeley County Schools, in order to bring its members a rich and rewarding experience, Pretre said.

The money Cassidy raised will go toward EPIC’s Blue Ribbon Recreation Program. The summer-run program is a collaboration between EPIC and Jefferson County Parks and Recreation, where EPIC pairs a one-on-one aide with a child on the spectrum in order for them to be in an inclusive setting and participate in the parks spring and summer programs with their peers.

Pretre said the aide provides safety, helps with communication and anything else the child might need help with. Pretre believes this program is important because providing inclusion for a child on the spectrum is key for their future.

“It helps put them out there in the community, autism numbers are growing right now one in 50 boys are on the spectrum … To isolate them is doing them an injustice. It’s taking them away from the community, we’ve come so far and to put them in the community gives them the ability to thrive during life, to learn from their peers, to model from their peers and to be accepted,” Pretre said.

Pretre said EPIC is an entirely volunteer organization so she is extremely grateful for the money donated and it goes a long way.

With April being autism awareness month, Cassidy said she hopes to inspire other people to make a difference and she challenges her fellow students and community throughout Berkeley and Jefferson counties to partake in the “Mute for Autism.” Cassidy said she will be doing it again next month to raise even more awareness. She has a fundraising goal of $1,000.


Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/

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